Chadchart needs more time on the job
Bangkok governor Chadchart Sitttipunt has come under fire from critics over failing to solve flood problems in the capital after it was lashed with heavy rain last Tuesday night.
Traffic in most roads across the city from Sukhumvit area to Bang Na, from Chatuchak to Bang Khen and Chaeng Wattana, from Silom to Phra Khanong ground to a standstill as cars were reduced to a snail's pace if they could move at all.
Commuters were stranded at bus stops for hours as there were no buses and many were seen wading through flooded roads from one bus stop to another, hoping they could hail one of the few taxis left on the roads.
These scenes of city dwellers suffering were nothing new whenever there is heavy rain for hours.
City officials call this phenomenon "water waiting to be drained" instead of a flood.
Many Bangkokians were, however, frustrated because they have high expectation of governor Chadchart who received a record 1.38 million votes.
During his election campaign he promised to tackle flooding by targeting nine high-risk areas and 45 more vulnerable areas, plus dredging canals and clearing the clogged sewage system.
Last Tuesday night was the first big test and, apparently, he failed.
One critic asked the governor in a Facebook post why he had to push a car stuck on a flooded road in Bang Khen district, noting that it was not a job that the governor was supposed to do.
Another critic, Asdang Yommanak, went to the trouble of compiling a minute's worth of video clips taken from statements made by the governor during his campaign regarding the flood issue.
"It will definitely be better, at least 50% better. If that cannot be achieved, there is no point of becoming the governor," Mr Chadchart said in the clip.
Pavin Chachavalpongpun, an exiled Thai lecturer at the Kyoto University in Japan, joined the fray even though he no longer has to experience the ordeal of being caught in Bangkok traffic gridlock.
Nevertheless, Mr Pavin blamed Mr Chadchart of being receptive to sweet words but ignorant of criticism.
One media commentator said Mr Chadchart's style of going directly to see problems first hand was a carbon copy of the style of former Bangkok governor Bhichit Rattakul during 1996-2000.
One of Mr Bhichit's most memorable moments was being filmed picking out rubbish from a blocked sewer with his bare hands.
Like traffic, floods are a chronic structural problem that no governor has been able to solve.
The problem does not only stem from too much rain within a short period that the drainage system cannot cope with, or a drainage system clogged with trash thrown by ignorant city dwellers; or grease from household kitchens or water runoff discharged downstream through the Chao Phraya dam in Chai Nat province or Pasak Jolasid dam in Lop Buri province.
It also stems from a lack of water retention areas due to poor city planning or a lack of planning which has resulted in such areas being occupied by buildings.
Governor Chadchart's effort during his first month in the office to have the drainage system unclogged by prison inmates is just a short-term measure to address the problem.
At least, he should be commended for taking a quick precautionary step to ease the flood problem.
The rain last Tuesday night was heavy, with Bang Khen the hardest hit; rainfall measured over 100 mm in less than 24 hours.
That explains why the Bang Khen circle and surrounding lanes remained flooded in the following days.
The rainfall was also compounded by high water levels in canals and the Chao Phraya River, making the drainage of water from flooded areas into them difficult.
To expect the governor to solve the chronic flood problem after slightly over three months in office is unrealistic. And to blame him for that failure or ridicule his working style is simply unfair.
The governor may be blamed for seeking publicity that may be the envy of his critics.
But during the three-month period, about 2,000 km of the drainage system spanning 6,000 km has been drained.
Light signals have been installed at several pedestrian crossings and talks on the collection of BTS train fares for the two extensions from Bearing to Kheha in Samut Prakan and from Mor Chit to Khu Khot in Pathum Thani, long suspended, are now making progress.
Three months is too short a time to judge, without bias, the success or failure of governor Chadchart, particularly on the chronic flood or traffic problem.
The worst flooding may be yet to come as the rainy season is not over until mid-October.
What the governor needs to do is improve the early warning system so city dwellers can take precautions to face the consequences.
Veera Prateepchaikul is former editor, Bangkok Post.
Former Bangkok Post Editor, political commentator and a regular columnist at Post Publishing.